The mesopredator release hypothesis (MRH) predicts that reduced abundance of top-order predators results in an increase in the abundance of smaller predators (mesopredators) due to a reduction in intra-guild predation and competition. The irruption of mesopredators that follows the removal of top-order predators can have detrimental impacts on the prey of the mesopredators. Here we investigated the mechanisms via which the presence of a top-order predator can benefit prey species. We tested predictions made according to the MRH and foraging theory by contrasting the abundances of an invasive mesopredator (red fox Vulpes vulpes) and an endangered prey species (dusky hopping mouse Notomys fuscus), predator diets, and N. fuscus foraging behaviour in the presence and absence of a top-predator (dingo Canis lupus dingo). As predicted by the MRH, foxes were more abundant where dingoes were absent. Dietary overlap between sympatric dingoes and foxes was extensive, and fox was recorded in 1 dingo scat possibly indicating intra-guild predation. Notomys fuscus were more likely to occur in fox scats than dingo scats and as predicted by the MRH N. fuscus were less abundant in the absence of dingoes. The population increase of N. fuscus following rainfall was dampened in the absence of dingoes suggesting that mesopredator release can attenuate bottom-up effects, although it remains conceivable that differences in grazing regimes associated with dingo exclusion could have also influenced N. fuscus abundance. Notomys fuscus exhibited lower giving-up densities in the presence of dingoes, consistent with the prediction that their perceived risk of predation would be lower and foraging efficiency greater in the presence of a top-predator. Our results suggest that mesopredator suppression by a top predator can create a safer environment for prey species where the frequency of fatal encounters between predators and prey is reduced and the non-consumptive effects of predators are lower.
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